Whenever I feel like my Facebook compulsion is getting out of hand, I retreat into the one activity that absorbs me so much I don’t even think about the Internet: reading a good novel. Particularly when the novel in question is a classic like Howard’s End or Middlemarch, it strikes me as ironic that I’m “improving” myself with an activity that was once regarded as a waste of time — just as the Internet often is today.
That’s what inspired my most recent post for JSTOR Daily: A Novel Defense of the Internet. Looking for parallels to the insults that are heaped on today’s social media users, I dig into the criticisms that were once levelled at the novel — criticisms like this one:
Patrons of fiction—the large majority of whom are women—waste their time and fritter away their intellectual force upon [worthless] productions…Let them not think that they do themselves no harm by accustoming their brain to insipid food. Like the rest of the moral, intellectual and physical man, if the mind is not exercised it deteriorates, the deterioration becoming more and more apparent after each failure to supply proper aliment.
But the novel reclaimed itself from this low estimation — and the Internet can, too. My post spells out how.